Sunday, 17 June 2012

Truth and authority: what next for the SSPX? (in which Ches predicts the future, desperately hoping he is wrong)

(This is a long one, so buckle your seatbelts and pass the mint imperials).

Well, I did warn you not to get too excited. The epitome of the optimism of the last eight weeks was seen on Rorate Caeli last Wednesday - Rorate have incidentally done a fine job throughout - when we got almost hourly updates about what was happening in Rome. Bishop Fellay had arrived at the CDF. The meetings were still continuing. Bishop Fellay was now leaving. What would come next? My wife and I amused ourselves by inventing an imaginary Twitter feed.

15.00 Bishop Fellay has arrived at the CDF.

16.00 Cardinal Levada has just nipped out for a packet of biscuits.

16.20 Mgr Pozzo has reportedly offered to make everyone a brew (that's a cup of tea in Northern English)

Ahem. You get the message.

And then, after the Fellay-Levada meeting, came the communiqu├ęs which made it clear that no resolution was imminent. There was one from the SSPX which stated that 'the desire for additional clarifications could result in a new phase of discussions'. There was another from the Holy See which stated that 'at the end of the meeting the hope was expressed that this additional opportunity for reflection would also contribute to reaching full communion between the Society of St. Pius X and the Apostolic See.' Does anyone believe the SSPX will go forward without talking about the 'errors of the Council' (I wish they would)?This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, n'est-ce pas?


Various theories are now surfacing as to what has happened. Some intimate that the presence of Archbishop Ladaria Ferrer at the Levada-Fellay meeting was decisive. Others are suggesting that this turn of events is another sign of malevolent elements in the Curia acting against the Holy Father. Some blame that pesky gathering of the CDF on 16 May, while others wonder if the leaking of the episcopal letters within the SSPX started to put the nails in the coffin lid. The fact is that none of us has all the facts, and Clio, the muse of history, is unlikely to cough them up any time soon.


In any case, none of these theories do it for me. Of course there are enemies of the longed-for deal within the Curia, but they hardly need to go very far looking for rope to hang the SSPX. The SSPX make the stuff for them regularly. Yes, at this dramatic juncture in June 2012, I suspect that we have come again to the SSPX endgame which I wrote about here and here:

"What was needed from the beginning was an endgame mechanism which both sides understood and agreed upon. If you start moving with no idea of how to recognise the end of your journey, then the likelihood is that you will never get there. Now, as far as we know, neither Rome nor the SSPX had agreed upon the principles by which they could end this process. We can speculate about the exact terms but they appear to be as follows:

- for Rome the endgame is when the SSPX accept the authority and Catholicity of Vatican II [and the New Mass] and agree to refrain from treating their own theological views as the rule of faith.

- for the SSPX the endgame is when Rome accepts that the SSPX's analysis of Vatican II is correct, and when it begins taking practical steps to correct its errors."

In the event, these terms could be modified slightly. It is possible that Pope Benedict might have been able to declare the SSPX's critique of particular Council documents as sententiae toleratae. I think it most unlikely that he could have done the same thing for their view of the New Mass, though something might still have been possible even here.

But, the real question here is who gets the final say. The SSPX essentially try to beg the question, arguing that ultimately it is a matter of the faith. One of the various mental pogo sticks on which Bishop Williamson gets around these days is the distinction between Catholic authority and Catholic truth. Until the Catholic authorities proclaim the Catholic truth, we cannot go along with them, he argues.

But, as I say, this begs the question. One of the fundamental criteria by which we know what to believe - by which thousands of new souls come to Christ's truth each year - is what the Teaching Church proposes for us. We have to keep the paradox as one: one and three, sacrifice and sacrament, God and Man, Mother and Virgin, authority and truth. This is a very practical question. If the Holy See can continue to ratify for decades propositions that are contrary to the faith, then where is the Rock, and where are the gates of hell in relation to that Rock? I hope I make myself clear.

But, say the SSPX, what the Teaching Church proposed for us in Vatican II flatly contradicts what the Teaching Church said to us previously. Moreover, it can only account for the changes by a false notion of living tradition which is essentially an evolutionary (and, therefore, modernist) model of doctrine.

Here (well, not just here) is where the SSPX's analysis goes AWOL. Living tradition is not some doctrinal stitch up by evolutionists and modernists! It is the way in which the deposit of the faith is articulated in any given moment in relation to some ad hoc circumstance or new insight. Some doctrinal articulations are beyond change (notably terms consecrated by dogmatic definition). Others are not. A clear distinction needs making here - and it is woefully absent from the recent analyses of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais - between doctrine and dogma. Permit me to quote from a manualist of the twentieth century:

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible [and consequently irrevocable] which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (Denzinger 1839). Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 10.

What strikes me in this quotation is not the denial of infallibility to some assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church, so much as the claim that not all are irrevocable. What else can that mean other than that in the Church's Tradition revelation is intertwined with human elements that are corrigible, or that might prove to be of lesser or greater service at any particular moment? And before you say it, don't suppose for a minute that this justifies the free rejection of anything that is not infallibly proposed (and thereby Vatican II). Ultimately, this is a discernment which the Teaching Church must make. That's not arbitrariness; it's the price of the Church's unity. Sometimes the Church does not ratify perfectly good theological theses. Sometimes, as in the case of usury, the history of the question is complicated by restrictions which grow doctrinally narrower (at first usury is only forbidden to clerics), after which accepted practice which cannot simply be classed under tolerance (since we do not tolerate evil in ourselves, only in others) seems to go in entirely the opposite direction. But, whatever the terms of the problem, you still cannot pit your own view against the Church's Teaching Authority simply because there is no infallible pronouncement!

Nobody questions Ott's authority, and what he says makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense also when we look at the history of the Church (which, moreover, is not linear). When we consider the philosophical apparatus of theology, Aristotelianism came to be preferred to Neo-Platonism, and almost looks like an afterthought when seen in relation to the whole history of the Church. Likewise, the juridico-canonical mindset of the Tridentine period was a world away from the mysticism of the Greek Fathers. On another level, Pope Leo XIII condemned as contrary to God's order and that of nature the practice of slavery, while the same condition is left entirely unsanctioned by the New Testament. Of course, the development of doctrine usually represents a gradual unfolding and a more perfect intelligibility, but every clarification can tend unintentionally to cast something else into the shadows from which it might need rescuing at some point. Not even the most hard bitten Traditionalist can refuse to see that the declaration of papal infallibility led to certain excesses in the twentieth century. Yes, they surely must recognise that.


Coming back to my point, the SSPX have been begging the question of who gets the final say. I say let the SSPX bring a heap of objections and difficulties to Rome. That's fine. It's healthy. The Church has a lot of serious problems, and, yes, the postconciliar period has been a quagmire of theological filth. But the process cannot work as a service to the Church unless there is a recognition that the final word belongs to Rome.

On this point I was struck when reading the papal address to the CDF given in January 2010. It clearly gives the lie to accusations of evolutionism in Benedict's thinking, and it also suggests why the SSPX cannot simply regard their own views as the measure of what it is Rome must be teaching:

First of all I wish to emphasize that your Congregation participates in the ministry of unity that is entrusted to the Roman Pontiff in a special way, through his commitment to doctrinal fidelity. This unity, in fact, is primarily a unity of faith, supported by the sacred deposit whose main custodian and defender is the Successor of Peter.
[my emphasis]

The Bishop of Rome, in whose potestas docendi your Congregation participates, is bound to proclaim ceaselessly: "Dominus Iesus" "Jesus is Lord". The potestas docendi, in fact, entails obedience to the faith so that the Truth which is Christ may continue to shine out in its grandeur and resonate in its integrity and purity for all humankind, and thus that there may be one flock gathered round the one Pastor.

Somehow the SSPX need to reflect on their prophetic role of theological objectors in relation to this reality. While they claim to be the most faithful of Catholics, the way in which they treat their own theses suggests that the potestas docendi is not located in any one minister but rather in the intellect of him who has the best argument about doctrinal continuity (and who is the judge of that? Nobody ever says!). To say, as the SSPX do, that only Rome can sort the Church out sounds like they agree on where the potestas docendi is located. But then ... they question all Roman positions which do not ratify their own theses! The fact that there now seem to be two clear currents within SSPX theology - one claiming that Vatican II is a complete perversion of the mind and the other one claiming that there are simply some errors in the Council) - only makes this situation worse. Fission goes to fission goes to fission goes to ... (you get the picture).

Which brings me to my final point (at last! is anybody still reading? Probably not). The SSPX claim that their positions are simply what the Church believed before the Council. As I have argued again and again, this is not true. All their positions argue from what the Church taught before the Council, concedo! But that their positions are simply what the Church taught before the Council, nego! They all involve deduction, extrapolation, syllogism and conclusion - they all necessarily, therefore, come under the category of theological opinion and are subject to judgment by Rome!

My betting is that until they come to be aware of this methdology, they will persist in presenting their theses to Rome as the measure of the faith, thereby short-circuiting the very nature of the potestas docendi which belongs in the final analysis to the See of Peter. Nobody can provide the ultimate measure of the Faith except this unique ministry which Christ founded to ensure the Church's unity. It does not matter one jot that the pope wants the reconciliation to happen; that assumes that the SSPX are at least prepared to agree to his doctrinal oversight. But de facto, they aren't!

Lastly - hang on, isn't that's two last points? I know, but it's my blog! - the infuriating thing is that until the SSPX do recognise this, they make it all the more difficult for those fighting intra muros to help purify the interpretation of the Council or even prepare the ground for correctives concerning the Council. They make opposition toxic by what is essentially a mutinous modus operandi. They make it look like all opposition to Vatican II is likely to be looking for the complete overthrow of the Council. Rather than hastening what they think of as the necessary reforms, they make them all the less likely.


So, what next for the SSPX (to answer the question in my title)? Let me make some bold predictions (and desperately hope they are wrong).

I fully expect Bishop Fellay's mandate to end prematurely at the General Chapter. Don't tell me a group of clerics who have defied papal excommunication until recently will meekly follow the rules of their Chapter about when and whether the Superior General can be voted out. Supplied jurisdiction: when the faith is threatened, you can legally do what is necesssary! I have no doubt that those who have opposed his latest venture in Rome will be gunning for him. Bishop Fellay's only hope of survival lies in the widespread conservatism of the Chapter's members who a priori have no taste for revolution.

Essentially, I think Bishop Fellay will be made to pay for recent events: the hardliners will blame him for dancing with the devil, while the moderates will blame him not only for getting their hopes up unnecessarily, but also for exposing the divisions within the SSPX and for helping to create a period of confusion and instability. It is possible that even his own supporters will persuade him to jump before he is pushed. If he does not go, the threat that the SSPX's next superior general will be a hothead in the mould of a Fr de Cacqueray is all the greater.

And will there be a reconciliation? No, I don't think so. There will be a long, lingering death to this year's optimism which might last beyond the beginning of July, but it will very quickly become apparent that we are back to Square 1.

Please God everyone plays at 'Cheat the Prophet'! But, dear friends, I fear we are further now from reconciliation than at any time this year.


W.C. Hoag said...

Ches, once more your analysis seems dead on the mark and, alas, probably the best prediction for the future.

God bless you!

John Kearney said...

Strangely enough I paid my first visit to a St Pius X Church yesterday. I jut loved the Vespers and families turning up for Benediction afterwards. They were very friendly to me and I spoke to one of them. "You know I think we both share exactly the same Faith. If I talked about Religious Freedom, Conscience, the Church in the World we would have no disagreements. Now I have read the Vatican II documents and found nothing wrong but then I am not a scholar, so perhaps you and I should leave them to the scholars and go on sharing the same Faith". The Society ran its own schools where the pupils were properly catcchised and were not bullied because they went to Church as so happens in Catholic Schools. The Parents the School, and the Parish shared the same Faith. My Faith but I was not so lucky. Just look at the state of the Catholic Church. In most parts of Europe and America, it is run by heretical Bishops who think a great deal less of Rome than the SSPX. Perhaps you are right in your analysis but I will not give up a new found friendship with the good people I have met and who share my faith. I believe God wants Unity and the Holy Spririt will bring it about. Yes, I do believe in maracles.

Ches said...

I want passionately to see a reunion, John. But, as you intimate, it's going to need a miracle!

Anagnostis said...

What Mr Hoag said.

I suspect both sides (Curia/Society) want it kicked into the long grass - the former because even those sympathetically disposed to the Pope's will in the matter already know that only a minority will "come over" anyway (one more FSSP/IBP/Campos/Papa Stronsay to add to the list), leaving the problem substantially unsolved; the latter, for much the same reason, but from the opposing perspective.

How alike, in some strange way, are Hans Kung and Tissier de Mallerais - equally soixante huitards, eternally confronted on the same barricade, equally drunk on their own rhetoric.

Vicki said...

Great post, as always. Thanks for always being a voice of reason amongst trad wing nut bloggers! I am also concerned for Fellay's fate. I hope he doesn't get turned into Bp. Fillet in July!

Evagrius Ponticus said...

"One of the various mental pogo sticks on which Bishop Williamson gets around these days is the distinction between Catholic authority and Catholic truth."

This looks like a suspiciously novel distinction to me.

"Permit me to quote from a manualist of the twentieth century:"

Ah, but manualists of the twentieth century were clearly modernists. And manualists of the nineteenth century were clearly freemasons. And manualists of the eighteenth century were clearly Jansenists. And...

" And before you say it, don't suppose for a minute that this justifies the free rejection of anything that is not infallibly proposed (and thereby Vatican II)."

Well, no, but that's because the idea is nonsense. Vatican II was an ecumenical council of the Universal Church in her entirety (indeed, a larger council than any previously convoked), inaugurated by a Pope, closed by a Pope, presided over by two Popes. While it didn't involve any extraordinary magisterial authority it still made use of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church. Indeed, this is precisely what Paul VI tells us about the Council.

"Don't tell me a group of clerics who have defied papal excommunication until recently will meekly follow the rules of their Chapter about when and whether the Superior General can be voted out."

More to the point, they're all still suspened a divinis, and yet continue to gad about hearing confessions and celebrating Masses.

"The Society ran its own schools where the pupils were properly catcchised and were not bullied because they went to Church as so happens in Catholic Schools."

No, but that's about all one can say in favour of Lefebvrist schools.

There are very simple problems with this reconciliation which are actually good reasons for keeping the SSPX out as modernist itself: bishops without dioceses are a massive ecclesiological anomaly, but more pressing is that we would, if the reconciliation went ahead, have a group inside the Church denying an ecumenical council and calling it heretical. That precedent should terrify anyone who cares for the Faith and the Church. Where would it end?

GOR said...

Yes Ches, you did warn us not to be too optimistic and you were right! The incipient euphoria about the ‘imminent reconciliation’ has indeed dissipated and resolution seems farther away than ever.

The Society now seems to be in a similar situation to the faithful in Corinth some time back, but whether Bishop Fellay can have a ‘Pauline effect’ on the membership looks doubtful.

Still, we are a people of Faith and Hope…not to mention Charity, wherein we continue to pray for reconcilement.

Ches said...

Welcome, Evagrius! Don't be too hard on the SSPX schools. In comparison to some of the institutional hell holes that are officially Catholic, they are capable of doing some good (and I know of several concrete cases to back that up). Otherwise, I'm with you mostly.

GOR, yes, let us continue to pray. It's the deafening silence which has followed last week which is the most telling thing. Still, miracles can happen ..

Rick DeLano said...

"Sometimes, as in the case of usury, the entire question gets reconceptualised."

Actually, no such reformulation has ever taken place in any document of the papal magisterium.

And yet you are absolutely sure that both a reformulation has occurred, and (assumptively), you are sure exactly what it might consist in.

To the contrary.

No such reformulation has occurred in magisterial teaching (the last exercise of the papal magisterium having occurred in "Vix Pervenit" (1745).

The "reformulations" various apologists are curiously certain exist all contradict magisterial teaching, as well as, often enough, each other.

A very interesting case, usury.........

Ches said...

I wouldn't claim to know the papal magisterium so well as yourself. I was simply going off the Catholic Encyclopedia which admits the many shifting aspects of the question. As I understand it, Nicea only forbids usury to clerics. Clearly, later councils are more restrictive. Some consider that usury is now only tolerated, while others appear to argue that loans for consumption and loans for production are radically distinct. This is hardly very straightforward! Since I have no specialist knowledge of the question, I'll gladly amend the post. Thank you for the correction.

Cruise the Groove. said...

As a side note:
Most Sundays the only chance my wife and I, as well as many in my diocese, have access to an TLM is at an SSPX chapel [We cannot go to any local NO Mass as we both almost get physically sick there]

My question is since the good SSPX priest offer confession right before Mass, and this the perfect time to go, may we be validly absolved?
I have heard both sides, yes and no.
Please help.

Rick DeLano said...

Sir, you are very welcome, and I am very surprised.

It is not typical to see a blogger who cares rigorously about accuracy.

I will visit again.

Ches said...

You'll be very welcome, Mr DeLano.

Cruise, I understand how delicate a question this is. My own view is that I would not in conscience confess to an SSPX priest unless I was in danger of death. I'm no canon lawyer but since you ask the question, it would seem that you cannot benefit from what I think they call 'common error' (the error of assuming the piest has faculties). Nor, I'm afraid, do I believe the SSPX's extension of supplied jurisdiction is a reliable canonical thesis. While I appreciate the difficulty and sometimes the drama of finding a reliable priest to whom to confess, perhaps this is a challenge that you are called to meet.

In your shoes I would pray about it and do some digging. For all you know, there is some disillusioned, retired old pastor somewhere near who would be glad to hear your confessions if he only knew you were out there.

By all means contact me via my email on the Blogger profile and I'll be happy to go into greater detail.